Contempt of Court in New Jersey Divorce Proceedings

What Constitutes Contempt? What Happens If a Party Is Found in Contempt?

Your divorce is final. You’ve reached agreements with your ex about custody, visitation, and support, and the court has documented your arrangement in a written order. What happens if your spouse chooses not to abide by the terms of the divorce decree? What power do you or the court have to make sure your agreements are honored? The answer involves contempt of court citation.

What Is Contempt of Court?

In the American justice system, parties are bound by law to follow court orders, including divorce decrees, custody orders, and support orders. A person who intentionally violates such an order can be found in contempt of court. In divorce proceedings, contempt of court typically involves a failure to pay child support, refusal to make a child available for visitation, or taking the child out of the state or country in violation of a court order

What Are the Potential Penalties for Contempt of Court?

New Jersey courts have substantial latitude with respect to the penalties for violating a court order. One of the most common sanctions is the requirement that the person found in contempt pay the other party’s legal fees. In most cases, the offender faces fines, though the court has the power to take away the perpetrator’s drivers license and even sentence the offender to jail time.

Contact an Experienced New Jersey Family Law Attorney

At the law office of David M. Lipshutz, we won’t take your case unless we know we can help. For a private meeting, contact our office online or call us at 856-627-1990. We are available to meet with you Monday through Friday, between 9:00 A.M. and 5:00 P.M.

The Impact of Retirement on an Alimony Order in New Jersey

Can You Seek Reduction in Alimony Payments When You Retire?

The Impact of Retirement on an Alimony Order in New JerseyWhen your divorce decree includes a spousal support obligation, it’s not necessarily set in stone. You can petition the court to reduce the payments if your financial situation changes considerably, though the change typically must be due to factors beyond your control, such as the loss of a job. What happens if you still have an alimony obligation when you reach the age of retirement, particularly if your retirement income is significantly less than your working income? In New Jersey, it depends on the circumstances.

When You Reach Full Retirement Age

Under New Jersey law, upon reaching full retirement age, you can ask the court to consider whether your change in income warrants a termination or reduction of your alimony obligation. Full retirement age is generally deemed to be the age of eligibility for full social security benefits.

Can You Retire Early and Reduce Alimony Payments?

The court will assess a number of factors to determine whether your retirement is reasonable under the circumstances or primarily for the purpose of minimizing your support obligations:

  • The age and health of both parties
  • Whether retirement is voluntary
  • The retiring spouse’s occupation and the physical and mental toll it presents
  • Whether the retirement preceded the date anticipated by one or both parties and why
  • The impact of the retirement on the financial health of both parties

When the paying spouse retires or seeks to retire before full retirement age, the court uses greater scrutiny when assessing whether the retirement is reasonable. Among the factors the court considers are financial incentives from the employer to retire, the physical demands of the job, and any health issues the payor is experiencing. If the court determines that the primary purpose of the early retirement is to lower support payments, the court will likely deny the request.

Contact an Experienced New Jersey Family Law Attorney

At the law office of David M. Lipshutz, we won’t take your case unless we know we can help. For a private meeting, contact our office online or call us at 856-627-1990. We are available to confer with you Monday through Friday, 9:00 A.M. – 5:00 P.M.

Annulments in New Jersey—An Overview

What Is an Annulment? How Do You Annul a Marriage in New Jersey?

Divorce from Bed and Board in New JerseyIf your marriage isn’t working, and there’s little prospect for putting things back together, you might consider filing for divorce. But what about getting an annulment? What is an annulment? How does it differ from a divorce? What are the legal requirements for getting an annulment?

Annulment vs. Divorce

Similar to divorce, annulment is a legal procedure that terminates a marriage. Unlike a divorce, though, an annulment treats the marriage as if it never took place. When your marriage has been annulled, you can truthfully indicate on job applications or other documents that you’ve never been married.

It’s important to understand that there’s a difference between legal, or civil, annulment, and religious annulment. A religious annulment is typically granted by a church but has no legal effect.

How Do You Qualify for an Annulment in New Jersey?

A civil annulment is available in limited circumstances. To qualify for an annulment, one of the following circumstances must be proven:

  • You or your spouse were not of legal age (i.e., under the age of 18) when you were married, and you have not had sexual relations since turning 18.
  • You or your spouse entered the marriage because of lies or fraud committed by the other spouse.
  • You lacked the mental capacity to understand, at the time of marriage, that you were getting married.
  • You married under duress or undue influence.
  • You and your spouse are too closely related to be married under New Jersey law.
  • One spouse was legally married to another person at the time of the wedding.
  • Incurable impotence by one party at the time of marriage.

You must be a resident of New Jersey when you file for an annulment.

How Do You Get an Annulment in New Jersey?

To annul a marriage, you must file a Complaint for Annulment with the court and have a copy served on your spouse. If your spouse agrees to the annulment, an order will be issued without a hearing. However, if your spouse contests the request for annulment, a judge will hold a hearing,take testimony, and consider evidence to determine whether an annulment is appropriate.

Contact an Experienced New Jersey Family Law Attorney

At the law office of David M. Lipshutz, we won’t take your case unless we know we can help. For a private meeting, contact our office online or call us at 856-627-1990. We are available to meet with you Monday through Friday, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Dividing Business Assets in a New Jersey Divorce

Are Business Assets Part of the Marital Estate?

Divorce from Bed and Board in New JerseyIn New Jersey divorce proceedings, the legal principle of equitable distribution applies to the division of marital debts and assets. Equitable distribution mandates that property accumulated during the marriage be “fairly” allocated upon its dissolution, but that does not mean the property must be divided equally. Assets subject to equitable distribution include real and personal property, financial accounts and investments, retirement assets, and business interests.

What Business Assets Are Part of the Marital Estate?

When determining whether a business asset belongs in a marital estate, the first question is whether it was acquired before marriage by only one party (in which case, it’s considered separate property) or acquired during the marriage (in which case, it’s marital property). Business property also can be separate property if acquired after the filing of a divorce complaint. Accordingly, any business interests that one spouse held or owned prior to marriage, or after filing for divorce, remain the sole property of that party.

It’s important to understand, though, that business property brought into the marriage by one party can become marital property, depending on how it’s used, created, or treated during the marriage. For example, suppose one spouse solely owns and operates a business before marriage, and then, once married, the other spouse quits their job and invests time, money, or energy into developing the business. If it can be shown that both parties directly participated in growing and increasing the value of the business during the marriage, the court might consider it a marital asset.

Contact an Experienced New Jersey Family Law Attorney

At the law office of David M. Lipshutz, we won’t take your case unless we know we can help. For a private meeting, contact our office online or call us at 856-627-1990. We are available to meet with you Monday through Friday, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Termination or Modification of Alimony in New Jersey

Ways to Change or End an Alimony Order

Divorce from Bed and Board in New JerseyAlimony is still ordered in New Jersey divorce cases, though it’s granted far less often than it used to be. Alimony is often set up as a temporary means of support during a period when the recipient completes the training or education necessary to become self-sufficient. Alimony also can be permanent; however, there are ways to modify or even terminate a permanent order of alimony. Either party can ask the court for a change in alimony, but the request must be in writing, and the other party must have an opportunity to contest the proposed modification.

The Effect of Remarriage on a Spousal Support Order

The parties may agree in a divorce judgment that alimony ends when the receiving party remarries. If the order does not address remarriage, then under New Jersey state law, alimony terminates upon the remarriage of the recipient. The remarriage of the paying party rarely provides grounds for modification or termination of spousal support.

Cohabitation as a Basis for Reducing or Terminating Alimony

The parties to a divorce can stipulate in the divorce decree that alimony ceases if the recipient cohabitates or lives with a new partner. However, even if the divorce order is silent on the issue of cohabitation, a long-term romantic relationship, where the couple shares living space and finances, can be the basis for modification or termination of spousal support. That won’t happen automatically, though. The party seeking to change the alimony order must file a motion, and the court will hold a hearing and make a decision.

Contact an Experienced New Jersey Family Law Attorney

At the law office of David M. Lipshutz, we won’t take your case unless we know we can help. For a private meeting, contact our office online or call us at 856-627-1990. We are available to meet with you Monday through Friday, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Divorce from Bed and Board in New Jersey

What Is It? Why Would You Choose It?

Divorce from Bed and Board in New JerseyIf you’re experiencing difficulties in your marriage, but you’re not certain that divorce is the answer, there’s a fairly unique process in New Jersey, known as “divorce from bed and board,” that may be a good solution. Also known as a “limited divorce,” it’s not really a final divorce but more akin to a legal separation.

How Does Divorce from Bed and Board Work?

To put a divorce from bed and board in place, both parties to the proceeding must agree to that approach. The grounds stated for the divorce will be just like those for a traditional divorce, but with divorce from bed and board, the parties remain technically married under New Jersey law. In addition, the parties are limited with respect to their acts:

  • Neither party can remarry without getting a final judgment of divorce and thereby converting the limited divorce to a full one.
  • The parties cannot acquire property as a couple while the divorce from bed and board is in place. The parties can, however, continue to jointly own property acquired before the divorce from bed and board.
  • Rights to property in an estate, or to take an elective share in the estate of a spouse, are not preserved when a divorce from bed and board is put in place.

Why Choose a Divorce from Bed and Board?

Perhaps the most compelling reason to opt for this approach is that it allows a spouse to continue to obtain health insurance coverage from the other party’s employment benefits, which is permissible because the parties are still technically married.

A divorce from bed and board can serve as a trial separation without the consequences of a full-blown divorce.

Contact an Experienced New Jersey Family Law Attorney

At the law office of David M. Lipshutz, we won’t take your case unless we know we can help. For a private meeting, contact our office online or call us at 856-627-1990. We are available to meet with you Monday through Friday, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

The Divorce Settlement Agreement

What Is It? Do You Need One? What Should It Include?

The Divorce Settlement AgreementOften, divorce proceedings involve no real animosity; the parties recognize that their marriage isn’t working and that they’ve just grown apart. Maybe there are children or even a substantial marital estate involved, but both sides are able to amicably agree on custody and visitation, as well as the equitable distribution of assets and debts. As harmonious as such a divorce may be, a written divorce settlement agreement is still needed.

What Is a Divorce Settlement Agreement?

A divorce settlement agreement is a written document, signed by both parties, which sets forth in detail the terms of the parties’ agreement regarding custody and visitation, child support, alimony or spousal support, and the division of marital debts and assets. Though an oral agreement may technically be enforceable in court, there are proof problems inherent with oral agreements. The written settlement agreement becomes a binding contract, requiring that the parties comply with its terms. If one party fails to perform as specified, legal action can be taken.

There’s no requirement to have a settlement agreement in place before or at the time you separate. In fact, the final agreement typically comes late in the divorce process. The sooner you can come to agreement and put it in writing, the less acrimony and expense you’ll incur.

It’s usually in your best interests to have an attorney either negotiate the terms of the settlement agreement or at least review the provisions. An attorney will have a comprehensive understanding of the law and can ensure that the agreement is in your best interests. It’s also fairly common for the judge in a divorce proceeding to review the settlement agreement to ensure that it’s fair to both parties. If you can’t reach an amicable agreement with your spouse, the judge may decide to issue a ruling governing custody, support, and property distribution.

Once your settlement agreement is signed, it’s a legally enforceable document. You can make modifications to the agreement, but they must be mutual and should be done in writing.

Contact an Experienced New Jersey Family Law Attorney

At the law office of David M. Lipshutz, we won’t take your case unless we know we can help. For a private meeting, contact our office online or call us at 856-627-1990. We are available to meet with you Monday through Friday, between 9:00 A.M. and 5:00 P.M.

CORONAVIRUS FAMILY LAW DISPUTES

Coronavirus Family Law DisputesI have already fought for many clients involved in coronavirus pandemic parenting time disputes. Those disputes are emotional. There are three important documents to keep in mind:

  1. New Jersey Statute 9:2-4 provides that it is the public policy of New Jersey for children to have “frequent and continuing contact” with both parents in separation and divorce situations.
  2. Court Orders as to parenting time are valid and enforceable, even during a pandemic.
  3. Governor Murphy’s Executive Order 107, which generally requires most people to stay at home, specifically exempts “visiting family members as a caretaker”.

I will not let a parent use the coronavirus to deny my client his or her court-ordered time with a child.

That said, both parents must comply with the Governor’s ordered precautions (e.g., social distancing, hand-washing) while he or she has care of a child. Do not give the other parent an excuse to withhold the child (e.g., Facebook post of parent and child at a crowded gathering).

When one parent is ultra-cautious, and the other less so, I work to try to find a fair and reasonable middle ground, as in any other dispute.

There are economic coronavirus disputes as well, e.g., payment of child support and/or alimony when the payor has been laid off or furloughed and dividing the stimulus checks for the child.

Contact me for help.

How Does New Jersey Define “Best Interests of the Child”?

How Does New Jersey Define When New Jersey courts consider custody, visitation, and child support matters, including issues like parental relocation and college education funding, the standard that takes priority is referred to as the “best interests of the child.” How do the courts apply this standard to identify what constitutes a minor child’s “best interests”?

The Factors Used to Determine a Child’s Best Interests

Under New Jersey practice, “best interests” is defined broadly, covering physical, emotional, and mental health and well-being. Additionally, New Jersey courts start with the assumption that it’s generally in a minor child’s “best interests” to have meaningful and regular interaction with both parents.

New Jersey law specifically identifies the factors a court may consider when making a determination of best interests:

  • The nature of the relationship between the parents, e.g., do they have the ability to work cooperatively, communicate, and reach agreement about issues related to the child’s well-being, including custody and visitation
  • The nature of the relationship between the child and each parent, e.g., the time the child spent with each parent before the divorce; the nature and quality of the interaction; and whether the nature and quality of the interaction has changed since the divorce
  • The fitness of each parent to attend to the physical, emotional, mental, and financial needs of the child
  • The stability of the home environment of each parent
  • The age and number of children in each home
  • The work schedules of the parents
  • The proximity of the parents’ homes to each other
  • Any special needs of the child
  • The preference of the child (depending on the age of the child)

Contact an Experienced New Jersey Family Law Attorney

At the law office of David M. Lipshutz, we won’t take your case unless we know we can help. For a private meeting, contact our office online or call us at 856-627-1990. We are available to meet with you Monday through Friday, between 9 A.M. and 5 P.M.

Coronavirus Effect On My Practice

Coronavirus Effect On My PracticeMy legal secretary Dorie and I continue to work from my office. However, in an effort to protect clients and us, the office is locked.

I speak with clients by phone and communicate by e-mail. There is a box outside the front door for drop-offs of documents.

I participate in court proceedings by Zoom video conferencing or phone. The courts are still open, although many proceedings have been postponed.

Many legal needs do not stop, even during an epidemic. In fact, the epidemic has caused some new legal needs (e.g., refusal of parenting time because of the lockdown). I continue to work on, and resolve, my clients’ legal needs. I have resolved several parenting time and support disputes in the last few weeks.